Science

Climate Change: Methane Levels In The Atmosphere Are Rising

By Christie Abagon , Dec 12, 2016 07:16 PM EST

Carbon dioxide, which is emitted when humans burn fossil fuels or clear forests, is usually the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about greenhouse gases causing global warming. There has been a progress when it comes to CO2 emissions, but it's not the only greenhouse around. There is also methane, and its levels are increasing.

Methane Levels Are Rising At Its Fastest Pace In Two Decades

Concentration of methane (CH4) is not as high as CO2, but it drives a more potent greenhouse effect. CH4 levels are rising at its fastest pace in two decades, according to a new study.

Over a century timescale, Methane is about 30 times better than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Scientists use computer models to project how Earth would warm given certain mix of gases, and methane's growth rate is close to a path that would take our planet to a difficult future.

Rob Jackson, an earth scientist at Stanford, said: "Methane concentrations in the atmosphere were pretty stable in the 2000s. But in the last decade they've gone up ten times faster than they did in 2000-2006, and they've gone up faster still in 2014-15."

Is Agriculture To Blame In Methane-Level Increase?

Scientists are not yet sure as to where the surge of CH4 levels is coming from, but they think agriculture is to blame. Methane comes from multiple sources, with some emitted by soil microbes in oxygen-poor environments like marshes and wetlands. It can also come from gas pipes leaks.

Scientists estimate that two-thirds the increase in methane levels since 2006 comes from the tropics. "Methane has many sources, but the culprit behind the steep rise is probably agriculture," Jackson told BBC.

Scientists suggest that in order to understand the concentration levels of methane, satellites can be launched. They are positive that the recent studies made about CH4 will guide policymakers, and that progress will be made in the coming years.

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